Sexual Abuse Claims to Face Outside Review at Nation’s Biggest Janitorial Firm

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December 11, 2015
by Andrew Donohue Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting

The nation’s largest janitorial company has agreed to an outside review of rape claims made by its female janitors in California, adding a new layer of oversight for a company with a history of facing accusations that it failed to prevent sexual violence.

ABM Industries Inc. made the pledge as part of a settlement announced Wednesday night with Maria Bojorquez, a former employee who said she was raped by a supervisor while cleaning San Francisco’s Ferry Building in 2004.

ABM, and the Bojorquez case specifically, was featured prominently in Rape on the Night Shift, a recent investigation into sexual abuse in the janitorial industry by Reveal, the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program, KQED, Univision and FRONTLINE.

After Bojorquez reported the rape to ABM, the company’s internal investigation found her claims to be inconclusive. Bojorquez said she was fired for speaking up.

Three years ago, a jury awarded Bojorquez $812,000 in a sexual harassment lawsuit, saying the company failed to keep her safe and retaliated against her when she reported the rape. The company appealed the jury’s decision. During an appeals hearing, ABM’s lawyer said the company has “tens of thousands of employees located across the United States and internationally, many who work in remote locations at night with minimal supervision.​”

“​Bad things sometimes happen,​”​ the attorney said.

Jennifer Reisch, Bojorquez’s attorney, announced the settlement Wednesday. Because the settlement is confidential, she said she could offer few details beyond the fact that ABM would open itself up to outside review.

“I hope it encourages other women to speak out,” she said at a public screening of the Rape on the Night Shift documentary Wednesday night. Reisch also said the settlement “speaks volumes” on the impact of the reporting project.

At the event, Bojorquez told a crowd that she spoke up so that other women wouldn’t have to endure what she did. Money won’t make things easier for her, she said. Bojorquez said the attack still feels like it happened yesterday.

“This doesn’t go away, from day to night,” she said.

Company officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Rape on the Night Shift investigation found that night shift janitors are easy targets for sexual abuse. They work alone, in empty buildings, late at night. On the occasions that women did come forward to report abuse, many said their employers turned a blind eye or retaliated.

The project uncovered accusations of abuse at companies large and small. ABM is the largest and most sophisticated. Unlike many flight-by-night operations, it has a paper trail. It also has deep enough pockets to offer victims recourse. The company has said its policies for sexual abuse are the gold standard in the industry.

At the Wednesday event, Bill Tamayo, director of the San Francisco office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Rape on the Night Shift — and the project that preceded it, Rape in the Fields, which addressed farmworker abuse — have given local law enforcement agencies a better appreciation that sexual abuse is a workplace violence issue.

“More police are looking at this and making arrests,” he said.

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